Will Nexus 7 and Jelly Bean solve Android's tablet problems?

Summary:Ed Burnette says the Jelly Bean-powered Nexus 7 changes the tablet game. Jason Perlow sees the same old same old.

Ed Burnette

Ed Burnette

Yes

or

No

Jason Perlow

Jason Perlow

Best Argument: No

64%
36%

Audience Favored: Yes (64%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Google’s Nexus 7 will eat iPad's lunch

Ed Burnette: This summer’s hottest gadget is the Nexus 7, which happens to be both one of the most powerful and least expensive tablets on the market. It’s no surprise that the 16GB model sold out almost immediately. At least one retailer is saying that they won’t get more until September.

Android’s tablet market share spiked over 40% when the Kindle Fire was introduced last year. While the Fire was limited, its form factor highlighted a need for tablets that could fit in your coat pocket or purse. The Nexus 7 is going to hit this niche even harder with prices less than half that of a new iPad. Unless Apple moves down-market with a smaller, cheaper iPad, Google’s Nexus 7 and devices like it are going to eat their lunch in this segment.

Jelly Bean (Android 4.1) adds game-changing features such as smooth, predictable framerates (Project Butter), and Google Now, Google's innovative personal assistant. Manufacturers that take advantage of Google's new Platform Development Kit will get a head start on upgrades, which means quicker adoption of new versions in the future. As a Google-supported device, the Nexus 7 will always be up to date.

An improvement, but not enough

Jason Perlow: The Nexus 7 and Jelly Bean 4.1 is Google's latest attempt to make Android a relevant player in the tablet scene, after several failed attempts to gain significant market share away from Apple's iPad with previous platform releases and the participation of several OEMs.

While the Nexus 7 and Jelly Bean introduce significant improvements over previous tablet and OS incarnations, such as increased performance (Project Butter) and better platform stablity, Android tablets fundamentally have many of the same problems that have plagued the platform since its introduction.

These include a more complex and inconsistent user interface when compared with iOS, a lack of tablet optimized applications, and despite the aggressive pricing on the 7" Nexus 7, a wide proliferation of expensive OEM full-sized tablet hardware is still sitting in the distributor and retail channel.

Lastly, the Nexus 7 and Jelly Bean do absolutely nothing to resolve the OEM tablet OS software upgrade issues which have been an inescapable quagmire for the Android manufacturer ecosystem since its inception. OEMs are just barely getting out of their Honeycomb to Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade rut, and have little or no plans to upgrade current products in the channel to Jelly Bean.

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Mic check...

    Are my debaters ready? Readers, if you are just now joining us, please scroll down and refresh your page once.

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    More than ready

    It's about time

    Ed Burnette

    I am for Yes

    I'm here

    Let's do this thing

    Jason Perlow

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Sales predictions?

    The Nexus 7 has garnered solid reviews, but I'll wait to see actual sales. What's your prediction re Nexus 7 sales over the next few months?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Impact larger than numbers suggest

    Based on (admittedly sketchy) intel from suppliers and retailers, it looks like Google and ASUS will sell about 5 million Nexus 7’s this year. That might not sound like much compared to the iPad, but the impact is larger than the numbers suggest.

    First, many of those new tablet owners will establish a Google Wallet account with a credit card in order to get the $25 Play Store credit. One developer, Shifty Jelly, says their sales have already doubled because of this.

    Second, Google and ASUS have set a new benchmark price with the Nexus 7 at $199. You’re going to see many new tablets come out that meet or beat this price, increasing the competition and selection available to users.

    Ed Burnette

    I am for Yes

    Modest

    I believe we will see some modest sales, probably in the million or sub 1-million unit range. That the device has sold out in recent weeks is probably indicative of a limited production run than heavy demand for the product. I don't expect the company to sell more than 2 or 3 million units in CY 2013.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Kindle Fire or Nexus 7?

    Assuming a new Kindle Fire emerges---and it will---which device is more credible assuming roughly the same hardware specs as the Nexus 7?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    There is room for both.

    The Amazon tablet will appeal to fans of the Amazon integrated content experience (some would say walled garden). Pure Google devices like the Nexus 7 will appeal more to tech savy customers. With Android, a wide range of prices and form factors are possible because one size does not fit all.

    Ed Burnette

    I am for Yes

    Amazon needs to do much better

    I think Amazon needs to do much better than have the same hardware specs as the Nexus 7, but let's assume they match it feature for feature. To make the Kindle Fire 2 more attractive the company is going to have to add a couple of really big carrots, and I think that the main way they can do that is increasing the perks for being a Prime subscriber and giving customers access to more free content, in the form of a larger Amazon Video library as well as a larger Kindle Owner's Lending Library, with more lends per month allowed. But I would go one step further and say that Amazon needs to have a better display than Nexus 7 so that it is more of a reader's device, and they might even want to consider an ad-supported version like they do with the regular Kindle, in order to bring the price down.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Ecosystem?

    How important is the commerce and content ecosystem to making Nexus 7 a hit?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Not very.

    In fact I’d say the opposite is true – Nexus 7’s success will have a halo effect on Google’s commerce and content ecosystem. Android has a history of superlative devices that kick up interest in the whole platform. First there was the G1, then the Motorola Droid, then the Galaxy S and SII, and now the Nexus 7. Each one gave people a reason to upgrade and get excited about Android all over again.

    Ed Burnette

    I am for Yes

    Monetization is everything

    I think that unless Google can monetize the Book, Magazine, Music and Video content on the Play Store effectively, Nexus 7 and all Android tablets as a whole are destined for failure.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Does Google have the parts...

    ...to deliver a seamless content and commerce experience like Amazon and Apple can?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    No

    And it puzzles me why they are trying so hard to build one. Google and Amazon should not be competing in this area. They would have been better off joining forces in order to compete with Apple.

    Ed Burnette

    I am for Yes

    I think they have some of the parts, but not all of them.

    Amazon itself has had problems competing with Apple only because while they have a very strong content ecosystem for books and magazines, and their music and movies library is excellent, the experience isn't as seamless as Apple on iTunes and the App Store. However, I would argue that Amazon does a much better job at seamless content integration than Google does right now with the Play Store. In terms of being able to use an Android tablet as a durable goods purchasing device I think Amazon has everyone outclassed, because their e-commerce application runs on everybody's platform -- their own, Google's and Apple's.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    $199 iPad?

    What happens to the Nexus 7 should Apple come out with a 7-inch iPad with a price in the same vicinity as $199.

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Apple interested?

    First of all, most analysts expect the iPad mini (the 7-inch iPad) to start at $299, not $199. Apple has historically not been interested in markets where they can’t make at least a 30% profit margin. Even if the prices are comparable, though, the iPad mini is expected to be larger than Android 7-inch tablets. Apple has to maintain the 4:3 aspect ratio and 1024x768 effective resolution in order for all their existing tablet apps to work on the mini. iOS is just not set up for flexible screen sizes and densities like Android is. So they can shrink the screen a little bit, but if they go too far the buttons on the screen will be too small to press. Unless, as Steve Jobs once quipped, they also ship sandpaper to file down their users’ fingers. People who want a 7” tablet want it because it’s smaller than a regular tablet. It fits in your coat pocket or purse. Doctors, for example, find 7” devices to be the perfect size to carry with them on their rounds. The iPad mini is expected to be somewhere in between the size of a Nexus 7 and an iPad, so I’m not sure that will be small enough for these uses.

    Ed Burnette

    I am for Yes

    I think then both Google and Amazon are screwed

    Certainly Amazon should exit the hardware business and concentrate entirely on content. And Google needs to find a better niche for Android than consumer tablets. If the entry-level 7" iPad ends up being more in the $300 range, then there might be some room for competition. But again both Amazon and Google are going to have to up their game with perks and customer loyalty programs for access to free content.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Jelly Bean improvements?

    Jelly Bean appears to be an improvement on the previous Android. What are its best improvements?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    The best improvement by far...

    I’ve been using Jelly Bean since the day it came out, and I find that the best improvement by far is the smooth user interface (aka Project Butter). LCD and OLED screens refresh at about 60 frames per second no matter what, which gives the software about 18 milliseconds to draw an updated screen each time. If the software takes even 1 millisecond too long, then the hardware has to re-show the old screen contents, making the experience stuttery or “janky”. In Jelly Bean what they did was to redesign the internals to synchronize the software with the hardware refresh pulse. It’s like an 18 millisecond dash: the starting pistol goes off and you have that long to reach the finish line. Then it goes off again for the next race. This predictability, plus optimizations in the drawing layers, helps ensure that the new screen’s content is ready just in time for the hardware to display it. You can tell a difference even in simple things like scrolling and animations.

    Ed Burnette

    I am for Yes

    Having used the Nexus 7 for a few weeks...

    ... I would say that the primary improvement is application speed and general UI responsiveness and to some extent increased application stability, although many 3rd-party programs still behave abnormally, particularly if they were coded for the Gingerbread APIs. One could argue that the new Google Now/Cards and Siri-like speech recognition stuff that was added was a major improvement but I would call it more of a gimmick than a useful feature. The location-aware features of Google Go really seem like they are more of use on a smartphone with integrated cellular data service than on a Wi-Fi connected tablet like the Nexus 7.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Notification bar?

    Is the notification bar Jelly Bean's greatest asset and an advantage over iOS? And can the notification bar attract recovering BlackBerry users?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    No...

    No, Apple already borrowed most of the good features from Android’s notification system in iOS5. Thankfully for Apple, Google didn’t patent the design or software behind Android notifications. (Or perhaps they did and we’ll find out in 5 years when the patent is granted, who knows?) The thing that BlackBerry users and administrators are looking for is security. Neither iOS nor Android is completely up to snuff in that department, though third party solutions from Samsung, Good, and others are filling the gap.

    Ed Burnette

    I am for Yes

    No...

    ...because iOS 6 which is due towards the end of the summer has a very similar notification system to Android and most of the iOS devices in the wild are going to get the upgrade. Sure, you can take direct action on apps using the the new notifications, whereas iOS 6 has some limited degree of doing this with tweets and facebook posts, but I don't see that as a dealbreaker for someone who is already inclined to purchase an iPad or iPhone.

    Other than the Verizon Galaxy Nexus, which has a pending/promised Jelly Bean update sometime in the next millennium, and may end up getting banned from sale due to recent litigation developments between Apple and Samsung, when are we going to see the first crop of Jelly Bean phones? Someone in Q1? Most of the iPhones and all of the iPads in active use, including whatever the next iPhone will be, will be running on iOS 6 by then.

    As to the improved notification system attracting current BlackBerry users... seriously? Don't they all want iPhones?

    Jason Perlow

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Where does Jelly Bean still lag...

    ...on the tablet front?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    This isn’t the fault of Jelly Bean...

    ...but the Google Play store really needs to make it possible to sort apps by their level of support of larger screen sizes. On Android you’re supposed to have only universal apps that support both tablets and phones, but there are plenty of apps out there that don’t scale well to tablets. If the Google Play store let you tell the difference then people with tablets would be able to choose and reward tablet-optimized apps from the store. Google doesn’t want to make that distinction because they want developers to adapt to all sizes, but ironically their reluctance to label apps misses a strong opportunity to incentivize developers to support different sizes.

    Just look at how iPad apps took off when Apple put in an iPad section in their store. I have an iPad and I don’t even look in the iPhone-only section any more. Developers know that, so they spent the time to optimize their apps so they could be listed in the tablet section, leading to a large selection there. Aside from a few featured apps, Google Play doesn’t have a tablet section. Instead everything is in the “download-and-pray” section. You read the reviews, download, and hope it looks good. If it doesn’t, then you try to return it within the paltry 15 minute refund period.

    Ed Burnette

    I am for Yes

    Jelly Bean no different than Ice Cream Sandwich

    Jelly Bean is fundamentally no different than Ice Cream Sandwich when it comes to general usability and user-friendliness. Android's ability to be heavily customized which is deemed by many of its advocates as its biggest advantage over iOS is also its biggest weakness. This may be great if you are developing a vertical market application and you want to totally customize the system, but not necessarily for consumers.

    Most Android smartphones and Android tablets also do not have the same user interface, this despite running on the same exact software builds. If you hand an iPad to a person who owns an iPhone, they already know how to use it. Not so with someone who owns a Galaxy Nexus and who is handed a 10" Android tablet like a XOOM or an Asus Transformer.

    Google made things easier for Nexus 7 owners because the device acts like a giant smartphone and it has similar screen resolution to a high-end smartphone, but that's not a solution for larger devices, especially ones that are not "Google Experience" devices which may have heavily customized UIs put in by the OEM.

    The menus and settings in Android are also multiple layers deep in the general UI, and there is no standard way this gets implemented from one OEM to another. There is still a lot of UI inconsistency between Google's own Android apps and also within Android's core UI itself, let alone 3rd-party apps. There are also still many applications which might be certified to run on one device of an older generation which will not run on a newer generation.

    iOS doesn't have this problem, because Apple has vertical integration and a clear lifecycle roadmap for its devices and operating system versions, and has clear guidelines for its developers for what to do with user interfaces and also has very clear timelines for when apps in the App Store need to be compliant with the latest versions of the OS.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Can Android be a dominant mobile operating system..

    ...if it doesn't take share soon in the tablet market?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Actually, it is already the dominant mobile operating system...

    ... in smartphones. The market for phones dwarfs the market for tablets by any measure. That said, the tablet market is important, especially for business users. It’s taking longer than expected for Android to gain more share in this segment, but manufacturers have finally figured out that price matters, so the prospects for Android tablets look good going forward.

    Ed Burnette

    I am for Yes

    Yes, but...

    ...this may be proof that there isn't really a tablet market -- only an iPad one. That doesn't bode well for Windows RT or Windows Phone 8 either, by the way.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Corporate uses?

    Are there corporate uses for the Nexus 7 that you foresee?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Absolutely.

    Enterprises can manage and configure a fleet of Android tablets almost as easily as they could BlackBerry devices, thanks to management consoles available from a variety of vendors. The Nexus 7 is small enough to be easily portable but large enough to show business reports and documents that would be too cramped on a phone. The barrier for developing and deploying custom software inside a company’s firewall is extremely low, and you don’t have to worry about vendor approvals and provisioning. And let’s not forget price: for every $1,000 of IT budget you can outfit 5 employees with a Nexus 7 but only 2 with an iPad 3.

    Ed Burnette

    I am for Yes

    Not hardened enough

    I think there are vertical market applications for Android in general. However I do not think the Nexus 7 is hardened enough for vertical market or corporate use. There are already indications that the hardware may not be as resilient as we thought it was. It's a cheap consumer tablet, so nobody should be surprised by this.

    In the corporate world, it's all about the iPad now. There may be some room for Windows RT and Windows 8, but that's all going to hinge on how Microsoft and the OEMs prices those devices out and and whether or not the OEMs are going to jump on the RT/8 bandwagon now that they've all been kicked in the nuts since Microsoft has revealed the Surface.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Collaboration tools?

    Does Google do an adequate job connecting Nexus 7 to its Google Apps and collaboration tools?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Nobody is doing this right

    No, they could do much better in this area. A native Google Docs editor with seamless online/offline storage is a must, and I don’t mean just a thin shell around their web app. They need the equivalent of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint as native tablet-optimized apps. Nobody is doing this right yet, in my opinion.

    Ed Burnette

    I am for Yes

    Quickoffice

    I think it could be argued they could do much better, and I think even they realize they could do better, because they just bought Quickoffice, presumably to improve that integration.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Windows 8 tablets on deck

    Given Microsoft's Windows 8 tablets are on deck, will buyers hold off on Android to pit the two against each other?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Too early to tell

    Some will, but I think there is enough information out there already for buyers to tell which devices will best meet their needs. The potential is there for Windows 8 tablets to be very successful as long as Microsoft doesn’t fumble the ball in terms of price, performance, battery life, and availability. Microsoft has a hit-and-miss history with new products so it’s too early to tell if they will deliver.

    Ed Burnette

    I am for Yes

    Not on buyers' radar

    I really don't think Windows 8/RT tablets are on the radar screen of the vast majority of consumers. At the corporate level, I think IT departments actually want to see what they are really capable of, particularly the Windows RT stuff. But I don't think your typical corporations are really looking at Android tablet purchases either. They're buying iPads by the thousands, though.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Boon to Google+?

    Assuming Google garners more Android market share, will that be a boon to Google+?

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Definitely.

    Android users have taken to Google+ in larger numbers than any other group. Part of this, I think, is due to Android’s open plug-in architecture for social sharing. All the apps that let you share to email or Twitter or Facebook, automatically gained Google+ support without the app developer having to lift a finger. Having all the Android team members there on Google+, with multiple hangouts a week on Android and other Google technologies doesn’t hurt either.

    Ed Burnette

    I am for Yes

    Nice but...

    The new Google+ app for Android is really nice. But then again, the iOS one looks just as sophisticated on the iPad so one could argue that increasing sales also boost G+ adoption.
    While every Google services app has some sort of G+ hook, such as Maps and Places, I see G+ as more of a data repository than an active social network.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Last question, gentlemen:

    Does the 7-inch tablet have staying power as a form factor? Honestly I waver back and forth.

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

    Not too big, not too small

    There is no form factor that is inherently superior to every other form factor. The right size varies from person to person, and even from task to task. While I can read a novel on a 4” phone or 10” tablet, I find a 6-7” device to be the sweet spot. Most of the games I play work better on a 7-10” screen. For tweets and text anything from 4-7” works well. Web browsing is best at 10” or more but works fine at 7”. It really depends on what you’re doing and how many devices you want to lug around. For me, 7” is not too big, not too small, but just right.

    Ed Burnette

    I am for Yes

    Some staying power...

    I think that until the IPS backlit LED tablet display technology reaches a point where you can say that there is no clear cut advantage over other technologies such as E-ink from a readability perspective, the 7" tablet will always be a compromise of weight/convenience over readability.

    Right now I would much rather use either a 7" E-Ink $79 Kindle than 7" Nexus tablet as a reading device, and I find the sharpness of the iPad 3's display far exceeds what the Nexus 7 has in terms of font rendering on web pages. Kids might prefer a smaller devices whereas adults probably prefer the display on a larger device like an iPad.

    As long as Amazon stays in the E-reader business and sees the Kindle Fire as a viable e-reader, I think 7" tablets have some staying power. And certainly if Apple jumps in with a retina 7" device then that staying power is absolutely assured.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Thank you all!

    Please check by tomorrow for our Ed's and Jason's closing arguments, and look for my final verdict on Thursday.

    Posted by Lawrence Dignan

Closing Statements

What's not to like?

Ed Burnette

According to Jason, Jelly Bean won't make a difference to Android tablet adoption because not all tablets will be upgraded. By contrast, he claims, "all iPads in active use will be running iOS 6" in a few months. As the owner of an iPad 1, which was still being sold new as late as last year but won't run iOS 6, I can attest to the fallacy of that argument. A developer from Epic Games recently told me how painful it was for them to support the Unreal engine across a wide range of iOS versions, but they still had to do it because some people don't or can't upgrade. Sorry, Jason, but iOS isn't as homogeneous as you think.

The Nexus 7 will get timely over-the-air upgrades direct from Google, just like the Nexus S and Xoom before it. But even if that stopped, the over 4 million members of xda-developers.com will continue to support you with custom, officially blessed Android distros for years to come.

Next, Jason argues that Android is flawed because phones and tablets "do not have the same user interface". Give a Galaxy Nexus owner a Xoom, he says, and they won't know how to use it. Ok, I'll grant you that one shows the time at the top of the screen and one shows it at the bottom of the screen. But I think he's underestimating the intelligence of the average tablet user if he believes they can't make the adjustment.

Does the 7-inch form factor have legs? Probably not, says Jason. Unless Apple makes one. Then it's a great idea and its "staying power is absolutely assured". Right.

The fact is that the Nexus 7 is a great little device that fills a need we didn't know we had. Steve Jobs said nobody would want a 7 inch iPad because the iOS user interface would be too tiny on the smaller screen. But thanks to Android's scalable UI architecture, well written Android apps can adapt to screens of any size.

Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) is an incremental update that brings better performance and features like Google Now. Between the new PDK (Platform Developers Kit) initiative and direct sales of their own branded devices, Google is making every effort to get new versions such as 4.1 in people's hands as quickly as possible. What's not to like?

Too many issues

Jason Perlow

While Jelly Bean brings a number of improvements to the Android operating system, most of which fall in the areas of system performance, the fundamental and well-known issues with Android still persist, which include a less user friendly UI than its competitor, significantly less apps than its competitor (few of which are tablet optimized) and a fundamentally broken relationship that Google has with its device OEMs and and wireless carriers which inhibit the OS updates of tablet and smartphone devices.

All in all, if these issues are not resolved in the near future, Jelly Bean will not significantly improve Android's position and market share as a tablet device operating system, sales from 7-inch tablets from Google and Amazon notwithstanding.

The winner is...

Lawrence Dignan

Although the Nexus 7 has garnered strong reviews, it's hard to buy Ed Burnette's argument that it is a big threat to the iPad. As Jason Perlow argued, the Android ecosystem is improving on tablets, but there are significant weaknesses. The winner of this debate is Perlow.

Topics: Great Debate

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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